A new approach to using aircraft in healthcare

The concept of using aircraft in healthcare dates back to the First World War, with the first recorded cases of using an early version of an air ambulance service to evacuate injured troops. In Australia, the Royal Flying Doctors Service has been one of the largest aeromedical bodies in the world since its inception in 1928, given the enormity of the land mass and the need for a system that can cover vast distances in short spaces of time. The benefits of using aircraft in healthcare provision are multifold, with the primary benefits for patients being the increases in reach and speed of delivery for quality healthcare services.  

Current aeromedical transport options are focused around moving patients to health facilities, rather than bringing healthcare directly to the patients. Transporting humans is unsurprisingly an expensive exercise, with a medical helicopter journey in Australia costing in the region of $10,000 per trip. The high cost of the aircraft, as well as the environmentally unfriendly and expensive fuel consumption they require mean that these are not sustainable, everyday options for patients.  

Swoop Aero has created an aeromedical logistics solution that improves access to healthcare without requiring patients to leave the safety and comfort of their own communities. The on-demand transport service for medical supplies and test samples can be used to deliver the care that people need, when they need it, via autonomous aircraft otherwise known as “drones”.

The power of autonomous systems

Rapid advancements in hardware and software capabilities in recent years mean that the time is now right for a fully automated aerial system to take over from traditional aeromedical solutions.

The agility of the 3D printed UAV hardware developed by Swoop Aero is complemented by a full logistics management software system that sits in the background, leveraging off artificial intelligence in the autopilot and machine learning capabilities to make the system fully autonomous and easy-to-use. 

UAVs are significantly smaller than airplanes or helicopters, and far more flexible to use. The Swoop Aero Kookaburra aircraft have vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, just like a helicopter. This means they don’t require costly and complex ground infrastructure to take-off or land, and can be deployed to anywhere in the world and be operational within 72 hours. That means that aeromedical solutions and better healthcare can be brought to millions of people that would otherwise not have this type of access, or perhaps any access to healthcare at all.

Agile and cost-effective

Sending drones to deliver medication in or collect samples from remote communities is not only much cheaper than using a manned aircraft to move the person requiring care, it can also be cheaper than the current car- or boat-based transport methods used for supplies. Whilst everyone should have access to basic healthcare as a human right, no matter what the cost of delivering it to them, that is sadly not the reality at the moment. Drones can, however, overcome almost any infrastructure challenge, whether that is an “impassable” mountain range, a road that has been washed away in the rainy season, or a treacherous body of water. They can also do this at a low cost, and respond on demand to needs as they occur. This agile and cost effective solution means that in a future where drones are incorporated into the healthcare supply chain, more people will be given access to the basic healthcare they deserve. In addition to being cost-effective in dollar terms, this is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional land and air transport in terms of environmental externalities as well, as the Swoop Aero drones are fully electric and can be charged using solar energy for a fully carbon neutral supply chain.

Telehealth and aeromedical solutions

In remote Australia and archipelagos such as the Philippines, telehealth is becoming more and more common as a way of responding to increasing healthcare needs of a growing population, whilst not sending healthcare bills through the roof. Combining drone deliveries of medications or test samples with telehealth services used to diagnose patients is another way in which healthcare can be delivered to all those that need it, in a cost effective manner. This combination allows those that may not be able or want to leave their communities to be treated in situ, rather than having to make a long and often costly journey to visit a doctor and collect their medication.

The future of healthcare

The use of aircraft in healthcare is changing. Technological advances and innovative new solutions to healthcare supply chain issues mean that the time is now right to overhaul the status quo with a flexible and cost-effective solution. Using UAVs like the one that Swoop Aero has developed to resolve last mile logistics and allow patients to be treated closer to home is a clear benefit for the patients, and indicates a positive move towards a future where the basic healthcare needs of all are met, no matter where they live.


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